Saturday, January 7, 2017
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ― Plutarch
Education in Tanzania from preschool on up, isn’t free. Government schools don’t seem to charge a lot, but $30 a year per child for primary school is a full month’s wages for most and the costs don’t stop there. Each child has to have a uniform, a desk, a hoe (to work in the school’s garden), and is expected to bring firewood some days. The total costs can easily climb to over $60 a year—per child, and no family in Tanzania has just one child. The average family has three children and often has orphans of relatives living with them as well. The new president of Tanzania found it outrageous for children to provide their own desks and has had the government pay for building thousands and thousands of them—a good start. Still, it costs a lot and many children don’t go to school because their parents just can’t afford it. There is also no food provided at school, if you come to school hungry, you go home hungry. The private schools are much more expensive. The Catholic school not far from us where Shaban’s son, Hemedi, goes now costs over $500 a year which is low as an average in our area. This is very expensive for Tanzanians. For us, who all had the benefit of free education, free books, free bus transportation (another cost here), it is absolutely shocking that it costs so much and utterly amazing that so many parents work as hard as they can and as many jobs as they can to send all their children to school.
When we first came here, the United Methodist missionaries who were in Musoma (retired in 2003) told us just to plan on paying school fees for assorted children. We laughed to ourselves and knew we wouldn’t be doing that. I can honestly say that we have no idea how many children’s school fees we pay (many) or how many orphans (probably 150) at our seven Methodist church related preschools are fed each day because of our financial support (including money sent us from family, friends, and small churches in the U.S.). We started paying for Bishop Monto’s son, Adam, when he was in seventh grade (standard seven here). He made it to university and we paid for his first year, tuition and room and board. He did so well, he got a scholarship and the next year we only had to pay for housing. Then he got more scholarships and we haven’t had to pay anything since. He is now married and just graduated last December with his second Master’s Degree. We don’t regret a penny of the money we paid for his education. We pay for all our workers’ children to go to government school and have from our first day here. We’ve paid for pastor’s children, lay pastor’s children, widow’s children, and have supported some all the way through university (which is really expensive). We really don’t know how many, but we know that we are still paying every term for kids to have a real chance at a good life because they will have an education. Shaban’s story is a typical one. When he was ten years old, his father pulled him out of school and made him start herding the family’s cattle and goats. When he saw that he was not going to get an education, Shaban ran away at the age of ten to live with an uncle who really loved him and could afford to send him to school. Shaban considered that uncle his real father for the rest of his life. Today, as we were driving back home from Musoma, we saw a thirty-year-old man in tattered clothes herding about seven cattle. Shaban looked at me and said, “That could have been me.” We were both quiet for a while. We help both Shaban’s boys with their school fees (both go to private schools) and don’t regret a penny of it. Thanks to Patricia and Bob Harlan, we are still funding students with money raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to finish their two-year teacher’s college degrees. Over the past ten years, over 70 such students have graduated and are teaching somewhere in Tanzania. The kids here have it rough. Not only do they have to pay for government schools, but the schools and the teachers are far below average in ability and facilities. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” You know he’s right, but for poor countries it is very difficult. We do what we can (and Karen does a lot with her background of forty years of teaching in America in everything from ghetto schools in Los Angeles to schools in Arkansas where most of the kindergartners begin school without a word of English). I’ll also say this, the kids here love education and know its importance. No one ditches classes and you can see them every day smiling and laughing both on their way to school and on the way home again. They love school no matter how poorly equipped it or the teachers are, and they do their best, God bless ‘em. We’ll keep helping with school fees as long as we can ‘cause we know how important it is for kids in a poor country to have an education—they know it, too.